Thousands of Massachusetts Democrats hunkered down in Lowell on Saturday to map out a strategy for their two top goals for the 2012 election — re-electing Barack Obama and ousting Scott Brown.
Party Chairman John Walsh said those goals are intertwined.
The more voters the party can turn out to support the Democratic president, the better their chances of denying the Republican senator a full six-year term in Congress, Walsh said.
“Having President Obama at the top of our ticket ... is unquestionably good for people who are thinking of running for office who are Democrats,” said Walsh. “The addition of a presidential election brings out a lot of voters in Massachusetts who believe in Democratic values and support the party.”
Walsh said the party hopes to build on its success last year, in which it re-elected Gov. Deval Patrick and filled every other statewide office and congressional seat with Democratic candidates.
Defeating Brown could be a much tougher task. He remains popular with voters and has more than $8 million in his campaign account.
The first step for Democrats is to find a candidate with the political skills to whip up party activists and capture the imagination of all-important independent voters, who were key to Brown’s success in last year’s special election to fill the seat vacated by Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death.
So far, the candidates with the best chance of defeating Brown aren’t running — Patrick, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy and Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Kennedy.
The remaining candidates have a much lower public profile and a little more than a year to propel themselves onto equal footing with Brown ahead of the party primaries in September 2012.
Saturday’s convention gave each of the six declared candidates a few minutes to make their case to the party faithful.
They include Newton Mayor Setti Warren, City Year founder Alan Khazei, former lieutenant governor candidate Robert Massie, Wayland state Rep. Tom Conroy, Salem-based immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco and Newton resident Herb Robinson.
Other possible candidates — including U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, former state senator and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Warren Tolman, and businessman Robert Pozen — are also gauging support among party loyalists, Walsh said.
In prepared remarks, the Democratic candidates portrayed Brown as a waffling, career-minded lightweight who puts his political survival ahead of the best interest of Massachusetts residents.
“We have a senator now who ... voted to eliminate all of America’s national service programs, who voted to cut job training, summer jobs, after school programs,” Khazei said. “Scott Brown didn’t leave any mark in the Massachusetts Legislature and he isn’t leaving any footprints in the United States Senate.”
Warren said that despite his own limited political experience as a first term mayor of Newton, he was the best candidate to take on “the man who held up unemployment benefits for the jobless until millionaires got their tax cuts.”
“Scott Brown told us he would vote in the best interests of Massachusetts, but he has voted against funding for police, teacher and firefighter jobs across our state,” Warren said. “He says he supports women’s health but he voted to gut funding for Planned Parenthood.”
Massie broadened the attack to “right wing” Republicans who he said were “striking at the heart of the American Dream.”
“They are blocking Americans’ right to own a good home,” he said. “They are denying young people a good school. They are weakening health care, especially Medicare.”
A spokesman for Brown’s campaign said Democrats have plenty of explaining to do about their own performance on Beacon Hill, particularly given the public corruption trial for former Democratic House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.
“The Democrats are meeting under a dark cloud of crime and corruption,” said Brown political adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. “It’s sad to see them engage in negative attack politics instead of speaking out against the bribes and the kickbacks that happened on their watch at the Statehouse.”